The Washington Post

Missing 2008 — the enthusiasm gap

We’re just not feeling it. (Don Ryan/Associated Press)

“Look at that moon!” you say.

“Ah,” they sigh, “but you should have seen it in 2008!”

Everything was better in 2008. The food was better. The lighting was better. The candidates were more glamorous and you sighted actual stars along the trail, not just a partial set of Duggars. The Olympics involved more marching around covered in lights.

“You should have been here in 2008,” everyone murmurs. “They knew how to campaign. They knew how to inspire. Newt Gingrich was nowhere in sight!”

Four years into any marriage is hard.

But this one has proved especially challenging.

In 2008, enthusiasm flowed freely from everyone’s pores. Our level of national excitement was comparable to that of a puppy about to go on a walk.

No one had ever used that font before! Things were going to be different! Change was in the air! We were young, we were mobilized, and we were going out to vote as many times as possible!

What happened?

Over the past four years, the voter personality of the young has changed from exuberant puppy to bored, smoking aunt from a drawing-room comedy. “Does any of it matter?” we sigh, dragging from one room to another. “Fetch me another scotch.”

For the Obama campaign, which depended on Youthful Exuberance as a method of getting people to the polls, this drop is an especially bad sign. Poster of a political candidate in our dorm rooms? Please. We live in our parents’ basements now, surrounded by McGovern posters and cockroaches. Now, the only people mildly excited about voting are on the other side of the aisle. Mild excitement was all one might have expected from Mitt “Mr. Mild Excitement” Romney, but for Obama, it’s ominous.

In fact, it would be a comparative boon if we were merely less excited now than we were in 2008. But the data is even more sobering than that. As a whole, we voters are not even as excited as we were in 2004.

Yes, that 2004, when the choices were George W. Bush and John Kerry, two men with the combined charisma of dental floss.

Possibly this seemed exciting only because there were, as yet, no iPhones, and we had nothing in our pockets to compare it to.

If only we could recapture that magic.

Then again, it’s not just elections that we’re less excited about than we were in 2004. In 2004, we had money. Facebook had not yet gone public. We had no idea that John Edwards was anything less than an upstanding member of the community. Our national credit rating was still impeccable. Bernie had not made off with anyone’s money. And Justin Bieber was 10 years old and living in obscurity. Get excited about voting? We’re not even excited to get out of bed in the morning. And it’s a long way to November.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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